Three Fin­gers

Prairie Fire - - STEPHEN HENIGHAN -


When they were alone in the kitchen, Irina’s mother struck a match. A ring of blue flame en­cir­cled the front right el­e­ment of the gas stove. The flames turned or­ange as they lapped around the base of the plain iron samovar. Since Ivan’s de­par­ture, Irina had ceased to view her par­ents as a unit of au­thor­ity, com­ing to see them as two peo­ple in a re­la­tion­ship that was com­pli­cated by her pres­ence. The warn­ing against mar­ried men—the first time her mother had rec­og­nized her as a woman—en­cour­aged her to dis­tance her­self from this tri­an­gle. Be­fore she could as­sure her mother that she did not think mar­ried men would be a prob­lem since in the closed city men with wives were grey-faced sci­ence teach­ers, brow­nuni­formed check­point guards or se­cu­rity of­fi­cers who had started their ca­reers in the KGB, her mother said: “And when you are mar­ried, watch your hus­band’s stom­ach. A man who has a fam­ily and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties must have a belly. If your hus­band grows thin, some young hussy has met a mar­ried man and you must put a stop to it. Feed him! His belly is your se­cu­rity.”

All sum­mer, in the moun­tains, Irina pon­dered this ad­vice. At the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer, when her fa­ther drove her up to where the air blow­ing in the win­dows of his wheez­ing Moskvitch sedan turned cool, she watched the bot­tom­less ver­ti­cal fis­sures of cliff-faces narrowing as they fun­nelled to­wards dark lakes. Clefts of rock above the water­line glis­tened with snow un­til mid-June. This would be her last sum­mer with her grand­mother, car­ry­ing in fire­wood, col­lect­ing eggs from the chick­ens, eat­ing ha­lal mut­ton with thick noo­dles and brew­ing tea over live coals in the cop­per samovar dec­o­rated with caliphate de­signs. Her grand­mother spoke to her in bro­ken Rus­sian, but all other con­ver­sa­tion was in Bashkir. In the Urals, the dou­bling of Rus­sian and Bashkir, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam,

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